Tuesday Reflection, week 2

October 5, 2006

On Tuesday in class we covered in greater detail how the study of contemporary culture has developed over the last two hundred years since the time of the industrial revolution. It was interesting to learn about the fact that it has been only within the last 50-60 years that theorists have begun to recognize that working class culture has value. Matthew Arnold held the predominant understanding of culture up to the 1950s that emphasized the necessity of having contact with high culture–the arts, literature, and music of society’s elite— in order to have “the ability to know what is best.” Those who were a part of working culture were assumed to be ignorant and likely to move towards anarchy due to their lack of contact with the high arts. I found myself wondering what other advancements or changes in the way people understand culture will come our way in the next 50 years or so. With this in mind, it also makes me hopeful about developments that have been happening recently and those to come as the Church is learning to take up the task of looking at contemporary culture in the West from an anthropological standpoint.

Also in class, we were given time to talk in groups about the reading of Shane Claiborne’s, Irresistible Revolution. I found the discussion interesting and I enjoyed hearing a bit more from the people in the class.  Each person found the book inspiring in some way or another. What is hard to talk about, is how we feel called to respond or apply what we learned or found so inspiring to our lives now and in the future. I have my questions about how much I am called to live into this vision that Shane sets forth of costly discipleship that involves giving up the right to a normal middle-class lifestyle. 

As a child my parents chose to live in the lower class section of town that was known for its crime and near to the interracial Mennonite congregation that we were a part of, and from ages 1-5 my family joined with another family in an intentional community arrangement.  My experience was quite different than the Simple Way’s radical way of living and investing in their community, and my parents are the first to admit that they feel that they could have done a better job at making more significant connections with the people in our community (where they have continued to live). We lived closely to the poor, but managed to not make the significant connections that Shane talks about.  

I can remember as a child feeling some of the cost of discipleship, as I was aware of the prejudices and fears that the middle and upper class-ish kids had about the section of town that I lived in.  In time, around age 16 or 17, I came to appreciate and value my parents choice to live where we did. It was a very formative experience.

So, for me Claiborne’s thoughts bring up a lot of questions that I have been processing (sort of) since I was a kid. What is the value of living in proximity to the poor? Is it for everyone?  After reading his book, I find myself thinking that if it were a perfect world everyone would join on board with this revolution and move into the more impoverished sections of town and start up their own Simple Way community. Yet, I have been exposed to ministry that reaches out to broken and spiritually impoverished in the other classes of our society and brings about powerful transformation in the lives of these as well. I think that there is something to listening to the voice of the Spirit and realizing that there is not a set formula that we all should follow in the exact same way. However, I also feel that there is a call to the mainline church to move beyond patterns of neglecting the poor and Claiborne is offering helpful guidance that deserves a response.

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